The Second Chance Boutique
The Second Chance Boutique, the promising début novel by Louisa Leaman, features an appealing heroine who delights in matching hopeful brides with the perfect vintage wedding dress.
Francesca Delaney has a passion for vintage wedding dresses. She not only collects the dresses themselves, she also collects their stories, researching the brides and grooms, the honeymoons they took, the children they sired. And, most importantly, she makes sure the marriages are successful. It’s one of her rules – “Never sell a dress that led to a doomed marriage”.
At an estate sale, Fran comes across the ultimate vintage dress – a one-of-a-kind gown made by a famous, but now defunct Parisian fashion house. Fran can’t wait to get the dress back to her shop and start the repairs, but she feels a little guilty as the dress is worth a good deal of money. She decides to talk to Rafael Colt, the man handling the house-clearing and the son of the bride who wore the dress.
“I find brilliant dresses,” she explains, “then match them to brides”…”The thing is, in order to make good matches, I need to understand my dresses as much as I understand my brides. You see, the best dresses – and I believe this could be one of them – don’t just bring their beauty to the occasion; they bring their energy, their truth. And I think this one,” she suggests, eyes alight, leaning forward with enthusiasm, “is capable of something close to magic. The ultimate life-changing statement dress. It needs life. It needs love.”
“Love it then,” says Rafael, turning back to the fireplace.
“You don’t appreciate what this represents, do you?” She snaps, her passion overcooking.
“Forgive me,” he says. “I forget how we must always cherish outdated, moth-eaten matrimonial regalia…because the other alternative” — he suddenly grabs the holdall, the fabric spilling out, cascading onto the floor — “is dumping it in the trash.”
Rafe proceeds to toss the dress into the dumpster and Fran returns home empty-handed. But not for long – the dress haunts Fran until she decides to return to the estate and save it. Unfortunately for Fran, she runs into Rafe again. She ends up taking the dress but quickly realizes it’s got “rotten energy” and she won’t sell a dress with bad vibes. She needs to know the story behind it.
There is no way Rafe is going to tell Fran the story of his parent’s failed marriage or his turbulent childhood. His family has always been in the spotlight – rich, powerful, and gossip-laden. He is running the family foundation now and it is doing great work – he cannot afford the scandal this eccentric woman could thrust his family into with all her snooping. He not-so-politely tells her to take the dress and leave them alone. But of course, Fran and Rafe find themselves together again and a sweet romance ensues.
One of the highlights of The Second Chance Boutique is watching Fran at work; the scenes of her matching bride-to-dress are a delight to read. Fran makes a sweet heroine – kind and loving to her brides, refreshing in her optimism. As Rafe says later in the book – “Oh, Fran, they were generous with the sprinkles when they made you.” Rafe is perfect for readers who like a more stoic, misunderstood hero. Having lived his entire life under the cloud of his family and their missteps, he is now simply trying to build the family foundation, to add some good to the world, but he is suffocating under the public pressure. His examples of love and what it means to be a husband are abysmal, and he is reluctant to take the chance that his personal experience of love and marriage will be any better. This is a common hero theme in romance, but Ms. Leaman makes Rafe different by having him own and admit his feelings for Fran as soon as he suspects them.
Fran and Rafe’s romance worked well for me, and the writing is terrific. Ms. Leaman works at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and her obvious love of vintage-wear shines through and makes this a must-read for fashion enthusiasts. The only thing that kept the book from DIK territory was a few hiccups in the storyline towards the end. Fran does two things that are wildly naive and not believable. But overall, the writing, the fresh storyline, and the romance make The Second Chance Boutique a highly enjoyable read – just in time for a summer getaway to the backyard!